31/08/2011

By Gavin Meikle, Head of Learning and Founder of inter-activ

Whenever a CEO or Senior Manager stands up to speak they have the opportunity to positively engage and influence. I believe that this opportunity is all too often wasted; here are some thoughts on the common management presentation mistakes made by senior executives along with some simple solutions.

1) Just because you are senior doesn't mean you are automatically a great speaker:

I have heard a lot of senior management, directors and CEO's speak. A few of them have been outstanding, some have been good, more have been mediocre and far too many have been appalling. Part of your role is to create a vision for your organisation and then to communicate it to the rest of the organisation with passion and enthusiasm.

Public speaking may not be your favourite thing in the world but get over it! If you are not a natural (and few are!). Get some help.

Remember, you set the standard for the company and those below you will emulate you.

2) Your people are tired of being bored at company meetings:

Company conferences and town hall meetings can be uplifting, energising, motivational and educational but they can also be dull, boring and sleep inducing. Nobody wants to be talked at, lectured to or patronised. Think of the intangible costs of a boring conference apart from all the logistics, time etc. How much could boredom and lack of engagement be costing your organisation? This is your big chance to engage the hearts and minds of your staff so don't squander it and don't allow your fellow directors to do so either. Forget the ego. If you or your colleagues presentations aren't up to scratch do something about it before it's too late.

3) Data dumps and bullet points don't win hearts and minds:

One of my clients called me in because, in a recent company conference, 4 directors presentations out of 7 were voted as poor, by the delegates. Thankfully they had recorded the conference so I could see the offenders in action. One of the common errors these under performers made was a tendency to overload their audience with facts and figures. Data has it's place and it appeals to the logical analytical parts of our brain but data on it's own is not very exciting for most of us. However when abstract data is brought to life with stories and case studies our emotions become engaged and motivation is generated. So in a nutshell less is more. Do yourself and your audiences a favour, only give us the most relevant data and bring it to life with examples, case studies and stories.

Oh and please dump those bullet point riddled presentations too. They don't work in a live presentation. And if you don't believe me, ask your people - I dare you! Replace the bullet points with engaging pictures, simple graphs and diagrams. If you want to see a good example go the the Apple events website www.apple.com/apple-events/ and take a look at Steve Job's simple elegant and clear visuals. You could learn a lot.

4) Your people want to know what those big strategic goals mean for them:

Corporate speak, mission statements and big strategic initiatives are all very well and look great in the shareholders report but they tend to mean little or nothing to the guys and girls at the coal face. How good are you at translating these abstract intangible policies into specific concrete examples that they can identify with? Remember you are not talking to the shareholders now. You are talking to the people who do the day to day work that brings in the money that pays your salary. Talk in their language or risk losing them.

5) How do you know if your speeches are any good if you don't ask the punters:

I often wonder why it is that poor presenters don't seem to improve and it occurs to me that sometimes its because they are blissfully unaware of their effect on the audience. Is it because they just don't care what other people think or is it because they don't get any honest and specific feedback about what they did that was good and what they could do to improve?

On my programmes I often hear middle managers say something like "I wish my manager or my CEO would come on this course, they are terrible presenters". When I ask them if they have given their boss any constructive feedback to this effect the answer is almost universally "No"

The client I mentioned earlier in point 3 actually had the guts to create a mechanism by which everyone in the audience at their company conference could honestly and confidentially feedback on each of the speakers. This is a great way to get honest reactions from the people you are aiming to influence. If they say you need to improve then you should listen to them.

6) Speeches are really about the audience not the speaker:

I hate to spoil your party but far too many speakers fall into the trap of thinking their speeches are all about them. Wrong! The most important people in the room are your audience. You may be the CEO but it's the people in the cheap seats that actually talk to customers, sell products, manufacture goods, design services etc. If they don't buy into your vision and get excited then nothing much will happen despite your fine words.

Put yourself in their shoes, research their concerns, hopes fears and dreams. Now think about what you want them to do as a result of your speech. Once you have these two things clear, think of your speech as a bridge to help them get from where they are now to where you want them to be. You are just the facilitator. You can't make them do it, but you can motivate them to want to make the crossing. So you see it's all about them!

The problem is far too many execs seem to focus on themselves. They just want to fill a slot of time without drying up or looking stupid. This approach won't bring you the results you desire. You need to speak to the hopes, fears and dreams of the people in the room.

7) How you say something matters as much as what you say:

And finally remember that it's not just about the words. You may write a good speech (or hire a good speech writer) but the content is only half of the equation. How you deliver the words is crucially important. Your voice, eye contact, vocal variety, passion, movement, gestures and expression all communicate meaning too. If your body is giving out a different message to your words your audience WILL pick up on it and they won't believe you.

Gavin Meikle is the owner of inter-activ learning and development, a Southampton based consultancy specialising in effective face to face interpersonal communication and presentations. He can be contacted at gmeikle@inter-activ.co.uk or by phone on 07810 645309.